Madison’s Aviation History Connection, A Vintage Vignette

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Madison’s Aviation History Connection
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
December 18, 2009

According to the book VISION: The Story of Boeing by Harold Mansfield, published in 1966 for the 50th anniversary of the Boeing Company, Seattle boatbuilder William Boeing unsuccessfully tried several times in 1910 to get a ride in a biplane in Los Angeles. He returned to Seattle, where on July 4, 1914, Bill Boeing and his friend Conrad Westervelt finally got several rides over Puget Sound with pioneer aircraft builder and pilot Terah Maroney. Afterward, Bill told his friend that he thought they could build a better flying machine. Thus, the Boeing Aircraft Company was started, becoming incorporated on July 15, 1916.

Terah Maroney was born in Tennessee in 1880. In 1900 he and his wife and mother were living in Huntsville beside the family of William LaFayette Quick, whose wife Lucy Anne was Terah’s sister. Both men were listed in the census record as cotton mill mechanics. However, their interests were not limited to the cotton industry. William Quick is the man who constructed the first operable bat-winged monoplane with tricycle landing gear. He had a farm five miles southwest of New Market, and his son William Massey Quick first flew the aircraft on April 7, 1908, just over four years after the Wright brothers’ initial powered flight. His airplane is now kept on display in the Space and Rocket Center as a memorial to Madison County’s first aviation pioneer.

William Quick and his wife Lucy Anne had seven sons and three girls. Their son Joe Quick worked 44 years for Madison County, including 1936-1960 as County Commissioner of District One, covering Hazel Green, Meridianville, Plevna, and New Market. Joe became a pilot, with flying as one of his great loves in life. As such, he was a passionate backer of the Huntsville-Madison County Airport. Most of the Quick family, including William’s neighbor and brother-in-law Terah Maroney, were active in aviation one way or another. Evelyn Quick Clark wrote the story of William LaFayette Quick and his airplane in the book Heritage of Madison County, Alabama (1998). She noted that some of the sons were early barnstorming pilots, some were early crop dusters, one was a test pilot, and the youngest daughter became the first female pilot to solo in Alabama. Even Lucy Anne herself learned to fly. Three of the seven sons had numerous patents in connection with aviation. Terah Mahoney helped William Quick build the first Madison County flying machine, and then he built one in Montana, where he flew in 1911 before encountering Bill Boeing in 1914 in Seattle.

As mentioned earlier, William Quick’s mechanical tinkering inspired his brother-in-law, who then provided the inspiration that led Bill Boeing to start an airplane company in Seattle. Moreover, Madison County’s Quick family connections extended through the years even to the town of Madison. The marriage license records of Madison County show that in 1933 Lorraine V. Quick was licensed to marry Loice W. Wicks. Today Ron Wicks, a descendant of William Quick, lives on Sturdivant Street in Madison, where a few years ago he and his wife Donna constructed a beautiful new house. Among other items, the house is adorned with framed sketches of the Quick Airplane and the shop where it was constructed.

Bill Boeing probably never knew that Terah Maroney had roots and connections in Alabama’s Madison County when they flew together over Puget Sound and Seattle. Likewise, he may not have realized in 1916 that the company that he founded would someday have major operations back in Terah and William Quick’s area of residence. However, there are some (including myself) who built airplanes in Boeing’s Seattle-area facilities and who now live here that are thankful for the ties that brought them to this place. Of course, since the 1960s Boeing has had a continuous presence in Madison and Morgan Counties of northern Alabama as a major element in space and defense industries. While the Boeing name has a strong legacy in the national and international aerospace domain, the Madison County aviation pioneers of the Quick family and its descendants should not be overlooked. They are linked in ways that few have known through the years.

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